It never takes very long around these parts.
Three tough losses in a row and already the columnists are trotting out the Billy Wagner stories…again. You know, the ones that talk about his “going off” on his teammates a year ago for not knowing how to play let alone win. Jim Salisbury refers to that tirade as “much warranted” in a piece he wrote this morning about the Red Sox visit to town. It’s a tired story at this point, Jim, and off the mark.
The sweep in Milwaukee wasn’t pretty, to be sure, especially when one considers the Phils had good leads relatively late in two of the three games. Lousy relief pitching was a big part of the problem. A lack of clutch hitting was an even bigger part. But poor management was the biggest part.
Not only am I not ready to anoint Charlie Manuel manager of the year, I remain convinced he isn’t going to last out the entire campaign as the Phillies’ skipper. Charlie is overmatched as head man. He may know hitting, but even that doesn’t translate into clutch hitting. The problem with Charlie remains that he doesn’t know strategy and, worse, he doesn’t know how to handle a pitching staff or manage his bench.
Some have argued he was right to leave Gavin Floyd in the other night to see how the kid could handle adversity. That sort of on-the-job training is a luxury few if any teams can afford, especially on the road. In this case, the decision flew in the face of all evidence up to that point. After giving up a first inning home run Floyd may have retired 12 batters in a row on this particular night, but his short resume suggests that when he falters, he falters in a big way. Manuel decided that was the time for a little education. His pupil got the failing grade, but the teacher was the real culprit.
Later, he brought in Arthur Rhodes. From here I will let Brian Peoples of the always insightful and informative Philling Station pick up the analysis:
Of course, one might argue that the Phillies might have been better off bringing in Tom Gordon with the meat of the Brew Crew lineup coming up in the bottom of the ninth. Rhodes committed the cardinal mistake of walking Jeff Cirillo to lead off the inning. Then with one out and Cirillo on second, Charlie Manuel intentionally walked righty Bill Hall to pitch to lefty Geoff Jenkins. Charlie's manual (apparently) instructs him that it is always better to have lefty on lefty, but this ignores the fact that Rhodes is tougher on righthanded hitters (1.80 WHIP .222 BAA vs. right/ 2.18/ .375 vs. left, and it was even more pronounced last season). Jenkins stroked a double over the head of Shane Victorino to plate Cirillo and propel Milwaukee to their third consecutive walk-off victory.
Meanwhile, the bullpen situation we all thought was beginning to straighten itself out has reverted to early season form, that is to say, unreliable. Reports are that Manuel no longer trusts Aaron Fultz on merit. Add Ryan Madson to that list following the second time in a week he has relieved Cole Hamels and blown the lead, save and possible win. Madson is beginning to look like Floyd on the bench: shell-shocked. His fastball is also starting to look just like Floyd’s: straight down the middle with no movement on it.
At the start of this season the Phillies were convinced they had improved their bench measurably over last year’s collection of so-called “professional hitters” such as Jose Offermann. Abraham Nunez and Alex Gonzalez were signed. David Dellucci was acquired in a trade. Shane Victorino joined the 25-man roster for good.
At this stage of the season it is nearly impossible to figure out whether or not Nunez is any good. He appears seldom, almost always as a left-handed pinch-hitter. He hasn’t been effective in that role but I would guess it is an unfamiliar and uncomfortable role for him. Most of us thought he was signed to sub for David Bell against right-handers. Even when Bell started off slowly, however, Nunez sat. Gonzalez has been a complete bust with three hits in 34 at-bats. The other night Charlie brought in Gonzalez to pinch hit in the ninth with Pat Burrell also available on the bench. Burrell, who had been struggling mightily (though not 3 for 34), was sitting this one out so that, as his manager put it, he could “think”. That doesn’t mean Charlie also gets the night off to not think. The results were predictable as Gonzalez grounded out and the rally was over.
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I didn’t set out this morning to pick on Inquirer columnists, but Frank Fitzpatrick deserves special mention for his contemptible attempt at humor regarding the Duke lacrosse team and the allegations of rape involving three of its players. For whatever reason, Fitzpatrick thinks the situation in Durham provides just the right occasion to try a little of his special brand of humor. Not only is the situation in Durham anything but funny, Frank, in general any attempt at humor in a ongoing criminal case shows unusually poor taste and judgment.
I must assume Fitzpatrick is at a point in his career where his columns no longer require an editor. More's the pity.